I’m on the beach a few miles from Cal Poly, looking out at the ocean and wondering what I would have seen there five hundred years ago. Or three hundred. Or two hundred. Before european invaders showed up, with their missions and rifles and chains and crosses.
There are some birds. Many birds, to the eyes of a city-dweller. A scant, desolate feathered tribe compared to what they were. Homes destroyed, food sources wiped out, habitat paved and full of colonizers.
Flying, floating, diving into the waves for the handful of fish who are left. The sight is as breathtaking and awe-inspiring as it ever was.
The ocean horizon is long and lazy. Fog meanders. And there, off in the distance, past the jagged rocks and a metal buoy… An impossibly large tail emerges from the water and crashes playfully back down again. A moment later, a gust of air shoots mist into the sky as one of the largest mammals remaining on earth gives and takes a breath.
Two, maybe three whales are hanging out, doing what whales do. With my five-hundred year old eyes, I see countless tails and countless spouts. I see an exodus, a celebration. A party in the ocean. As far as the eye can see, across the long and lazy horizon.
Now they are gone.
When I was a kid, around eight or nine years old, I developed the kind of obsessive fascination that only children, artists, and the insane are capable of: whales. I was mesmerized by pictures of them, enchanted by their ways, reading book after book about them, drawing picture after picture of them.
My child’s mind reels: they breath oxygen, they have hair, give birth to live young. They have warm blood. They’re just like me.
But they live in the water! Whaaat?!
Dolphins with their little sharp teeth, humpbacks with their krill-catching hair-teeth. Blue whales, bigger than any other creature on earth. Sperm whales with heads that can ram ships, covered with scars from wrestling the leviathans of the deep. Narwhals and their unicorn horns, killer whales jumping out of the water and onto the ice to snatch up seals.
Now they are gone.
Homes poisoned and destroyed. Just like on land. Their relatives of the deep, predator and prey, destroyed, murdered, slaughtered. Wiped out, hunted, exterminated. Along with the wild humans who once lived here.
My five hundred year-old eyes see birds blotting out the sky in their migrations. Diving for countless fish. Ecstatic and fecund. Dancing in the air, witnessed by the wild humans who share this home where ocean and land meet.
Now I’m on campus, visiting the imprisoned. Oh, they don’t call it a prison. They call it “stables.” Where the slave horses are kept.
I don’t know horses. I don’t know where they come from. But I know this: horses run. That’s the fuck what horses do. Which means they come from where there is endless space for them to run. They have no bridles, and no human symbols have been burned into their flesh (branding).
At the stable, they are trapped in a twenty square foot pen, eating and rolling in their own shit.
Or maybe out in a bigger pen. Maybe an acre for the twenty or so horses on the premises, and their recently-born children. The kids are running. They’re still young and wild. They haven’t been broken.
That’s what they call it, you know. “Broken.” That’s how you describe a horse that has been trained, through reinforcement both positive (food bribery) and negative (beatings). When the horse will submit to carrying humans, running from place to place with humans, doing tricks, and even dancing for humans–that is a horse that has been broken.
Plantation owners used the same term for their african slaves. Newly captured, newly enslaved, fresh from the poisonous bowels of cargo vessels, these humans still had a sense of themselves, their culture, and their identity. They did not willingly submit to enslavement.
And thus they had to be broken.
That’s what pimps call it too, by the way. “Break a bitch.” That’s where you fuck with a woman’s heart and mind to the point where she will do what you command.
She must be broken.
At the stables they have a teaser horse. What is a teaser horse? I ask. That’s the male horse they bring out to march around the mares, and make sure they’re in heat. They get him fired up, then send him back to the pen, unsatisfied.
Some of the males get jacked off, their semen collected. Then the mares are marched into a stall, locked down, and raped with an fake penis. The type of people who run stables call this “breeding.”
Or they lock down the mares, and bring in an actual male horse to rape them.
I don’t know horses. But I know life. All creatures have their ceremonies and rituals–for eating, for living, for sleeping, for mating. These horses don’t get their mating rituals. They are not free to dance and flirt. They are captured and raped.
The civilized call this “breeding.”
They used the same word for the africans, you know. “Breed” the slaves. Get a big, strong african man, that’s the bull. Then force him to fuck the mares. I mean the women.
“Don’t worry,” I say to one of my imprisoned brothers. “It will all be over soon.”
Then we will all be free.